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How to Grow Bonsai Trees from Cuttings

Updated on September 14, 2015

Growing bonsai can be an expensive hobby, especially if you choose to buy a tree that has already been styled and potted up by a specialist dealer. But aside from the extra expense, when you buy a “finished” tree, you are missing out on all the fun!

There is in any case no such thing as a finished tree. At my bonsai club they say that the only finished tree is a dead one. All bonsai need regular pruning to keep them looking good, and in time a tree’s style may change drastically from what it looked like when you first bought it.

One of the cheaper methods of developing your own bonsai is to buy starter material from a garden centre. Or if you’ve got patience you may even choose to propagate your own.

I’ll admit I’m not a patient person and as a result I’ve acquired a LOT of trees. Many were bought cheaply at garden centres, while several were acquired off my club’s raffle table and cost me almost nothing. But when I prune my trees I hate to throw away anything that has the potential to make another tree. As a result a lot of my trees are grown from cuttings.

The tree I’m featuring in this Hub was started from a very small cutting which I planted in March 2007. I had been experimenting with bonsai for a while before that but really didn’t know what I was doing. When I started styling this tree I had just joined my club and was finally learning how to do things properly. But as an impatient beginner I must admit that I did too much too soon and probably slowed down my tree’s development.

This tree is a Ficus Natalensis – a member of the Ficus family which is indigenous to South Africa. What I like about these trees is that they grow quickly, so it is possible to develop a decent bonsai from a cutting in a few years.

Young and sickly Ficus Natalensis cutting. It is hard to believe that in five years this will develop into a presentable bonsai.
Young and sickly Ficus Natalensis cutting. It is hard to believe that in five years this will develop into a presentable bonsai. | Source

27 December 2007

At this stage my little tree had spent its entire life indoors and was a sickly-looking specimen which needed wiring just to keep it upright. By this time I had been persuaded that my ficuses – so called indoor trees – would be better off living outside. Before its move I removed a couple of leaves from the top to promote branching.





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16 January 2008

As a result of the changes I had made, there were already signs of improvement to my tree. New branches were starting to develop and, in only three weeks, the trunk was already starting to thicken. Despite signs of sunburn on the old leaves, they were no longer weak and droopy.





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27 February 2008

By now there was significant branching and, as an inexperienced beginner, I decided it was time to remove some unwanted branches, not realising that leaving them on would help the trunk to thicken more quickly.







At the same time I rewired the trunk to position the remaining branches on the outside of the curves.










18 October 2008

The tree has been allowed to grow wild through the winter and is in serious need of a haircut. The free growth has helped the trunk to thicken substantially and it has begun to develop a woody appearance.

For anyone wanting to grow Ficus in a cold climate, I must mention that they are frost sensitive. Because of this I have to take this tree indoors at night during the colder months of the year. The climate where I live is still relatively mild, with overnight temperatures rarely dropping much below 0° Celsius and daytime temperatures usually rising into the teens. If your climate is really harsh, it may be necessary to keep your Ficus indoors throughout winter.

Ficus Natalensis cutting one and a half years old and starting to develop a woody trunk.
Ficus Natalensis cutting one and a half years old and starting to develop a woody trunk. | Source

20 October 2008

With a lot of excess growth removed, the shape of the lower section is beginning to show.

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10 December 2008

After another period of unrestricted growth, new branches are developing higher up on the tree.

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22 March 2009

It is now approximately two years since this tree started life as a cutting with four leaves and no roots. It has been pruned and rewired a couple of times since December and is beginning to take shape.

The front of the tree has also been changed since the previous photo.





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8 October 2010

In the last year and a half the only drastic change has been my decision to remove the lowest branch. It has recently been moved to a bonsai pot ready for the club show.









15 December 2012

Two years later the root base is looking a lot better and the foliage on the branches is no longer so sparse. The lower branches have recently been rewired to bring them closer to horizontal.

While this will never be my best tree, it will always hold a special place in my heart because of all it has taught me. Some of the branches I have pruned off it over the years have been developed into separate trees, some of which are now bigger and thicker than their parent and will in time make much better bonsai.

Ficus Natalensis bonsai five years after I started styling it from a young cutting.
Ficus Natalensis bonsai five years after I started styling it from a young cutting. | Source

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    • Gina145 profile image
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      Gina145 3 years ago from South Africa

      Hi lmoyer92. No I don't necessarily think it would have reached this result sooner, but I think I would have got a better tree in the end. I've grown other cuttings from the same parent plant and left them to do their own thing for a year or two, with the result that the trunks are a lot fatter. They were also grown in bigger pots than this one, so that made a difference too.

    • lmoyer92 profile image

      Leon Moyer 3 years ago

      I've always wanted a Bonsai Tree, but I never thought to make one myself. Earlier on in this hub you said

      "I did too much too soon and probably slowed down my tree’s development."

      Do you think it would have reached the end result quicker if you had done things at a slower pace? (which sounds ironic, now that I think about it.)

    • Gina145 profile image
      Author

      Gina145 4 years ago from South Africa

      Hi Jay. Good luck when you try again.

      Good light is always important though some trees can tolerate less light than others. Likewise some trees will suffer if they get too much sun and need to be protected when the sun is at its strongest. Similarly some trees, including deciduous species, need the cold of winter to survive while others have to be protected from severe cold, frost and snow. Some trees can live indoors permanently while others need to live outside exposed to the elements.

      The important thing is to understand the needs of the species you're growing.

    • profile image

      Jay 4 years ago

      I was given a starter kit once years ago and then a couple of years after that a full grown tree - I killed both. I think I did what you mentioned with the starter kit and did too much, wanting quicker results. I have to say though, by seeing the progress of your cutting here, it has really inspired me to try again and I think I may even be willing to try again. Does temperature and light matter or does it depend on the type of tree you go for? I'm sorry if that seems like an ignorant question.

    • Gina145 profile image
      Author

      Gina145 4 years ago from South Africa

      Hi Elza. If you are still trying to develop the structure of your tree and want the trunk and branches to thicken, it should be in a larger pot. Once the roots are restricted to the space in a small bonsai pot, the tree will never get much bigger or thicker than it already is.

    • profile image

      Elza 4 years ago

      Should I transplanted bonsai trees in large pots as they grow or could leave in a small pots?